Susie Finkbeiner is the CBA bestselling author of All Manner of Things, which was selected as a 2020 Michigan Notable Book, and Stories That Bind Us, as well as A Cup of Dust, A Trail of Crumbs, and A Song of Home. She serves on the Fiction Readers Summit planning committee, volunteers her time at Ada Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and speaks at retreats and women’s events across the country.
In this interview, Susie talks about her latest book, The Nature of Small Birds.
FF: Please provide a brief description of The Nature of Small Birds.
This is the story of a family who adopts a small girl from Vietnam at the end of the United States’ involvement in that nation. Told across four decades, The Nature of Small Birds explores the makings of a family, the desire of children to spread their wings, and the importance of letting go.
FF: Your book deals with a very emotional event in history called Operation Babylift. Can you explain more about this relocation program?
In the spring of 1975 it was clear that the United States’ involvement in Vietnam was winding down and the military was busy evacuating the country. One concern was for the thousands of children in Westernrun orphanages across the country, many of whom were already selected for adoption in American families. In early April, President Gerald Ford authorized the airlift of three thousand children from various cities in Vietnam to the United States, Australia, and Canada.
Now, as adults, many of the “Babylift” adoptees are actively searching for their birth families and reuniting with them through the help of the internet.
FF: Why did you decide to write about this humanitarian effort?
When I was a little girl I used to spend hours sitting in the basement, looking through old copies of National Geographic. I remember clearly the day I turned a page in the magazine to see the photograph of children running down a road, smoke billowing behind them. The little girl in the middle was naked, arms held away from her sides. Her face held horror like I’d never known.
All the children bore that same expression.
I knew a little about Vietnam and the war my father was in there. The war he brought home with him. But until that moment, I’d not thought about the children who were the casualties of the fighting. The question “What about the children of Vietnam?” has haunted me for most of my life.
When I stumbled across an article about the Babylift while researching for my novel All Manner of Things, I felt the tug of that question yet again. What about those kids?
I knew I couldn’t answer the question fully. But The Nature of Small Birds is my attempt at answering the question “What about one of them?”
FF: What type of research was required to effectively cover this event in your novel?
I feel very fortunate to be writing in a time in which access to research materials is so easily accessible. I’m particularly thankful for online resources as I wrote this novel during a worldwide pandemic in which libraries were closed.
I read several books such as The Life We Were Given by Dana Sachs, Last Airlift by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch, and Escape from Saigon by Andrew Warren. I also found many newspaper and magazine articles from 1975 that covered the events of each airlift, offered opinions, and featured pictures of the children’s journey.
A great advantage of writing twentieth-century fiction is the wealth of video resources at my disposal. I was able to watch documentaries like Daughter from Danang and Operation Babylift: The Lost Children of Vietnam. Also enlightening were the films Hearts and Minds and The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.
This research cause me to dive even further into the brutality of war, the resilience of the human spirit, and the attention and mercy of God through it all.
FF: Your novel is a story about family, whether you are born into one or become one. Can you please expound upon this concept?
The past few years I’ve come to realize that my novels always end up exploring a question about what makes a group of individuals a family. The Nature of Small Birds is no different.
Recently, I’ve watched as different beloved friends and their families have welcomed children into their lives through adoption, both international and domestic. I’ve prayed for them, cried over the struggles and heartbreaks, rejoiced with them in the victories and beautiful moments, and marveled at the bonds that hold them together through it all. What an honor to have such people in my life!
As I researched the families that adopted children from Vietnam, I learned so much about the joy and pain of adoption, particularly when the children have endured trauma. To quote my good friend and fellow author Kelli Stuart, “Hope is slow.”
And it’s always worth it.
FF: The Nature of Small Birds covers three different timelines. What are these timelines?
Honestly, I hadn’t originally intended to write it in three different decades. But the story couldn’t just be told in 1975. I found from my research that the stories of the Babylift weren’t lived in a vacuum. They are, in fact, still being lived and told.
So, I wrote the story in the year the Matthews family adopted little Minh from Vietnam (told from the perspective of the adoptive mother), then in 1988 when Minh (who goes by Mindy) is a teenager (told in the voice of her sister), and last in 2013 when Mindy is seeking out her birth family (from the point of view of her adoptive father).
FF: How do you hope your book will impact readers?
I hope that in this book, as with my others, that the reader will feel welcomed into the family. That they’ll allow themselves to see the world and our recent history through fresh eyes and that it will inspire them to empathy and hope, and to remember the beauty of having those around us that we can love dearly.
FF: What are you working on next?
I’m currently writing a novel set in 1952 Michigan. It’s got Shakespeare, McCarthyism, really great cars, and All American Girls Professional Baseball. What more could you ever want?
The Nature of Small Birds
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Release Date: July 6, 2021
ISBN-10 : 0800739353
ISBN-13 : 978-0800739355
In 1975, three thousand children were airlifted out of Saigon to be adopted into Western homes. When one of those children announces her plans to return to Vietnam to find her birth mother, her loving adopted family is suddenly thrown back to the events surrounding her unconventional arrival in their lives.
Mindy’s father grapples with the tension between holding on tightly and letting his daughter spread her wings. Her mother undergoes the emotional roller coaster inherent in the adoption of a child from a war-torn country, discovering the joy hidden amid the difficulties. And Mindy and her sister struggle to find the strength to accept each other as they both discover who they truly are.
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